Introduction to Research Frameworks

In 1996 the English Heritage (now Historic England) publication ‘Frameworks for our Past‘ highlighted the need for research frameworks for the historic environment as a tool for establishing long-term objectives. The DCMS document ‘Historic Environment: a Force for our Future’ (2001) stated that English Heritage had been ‘commissioned to frame a co-ordinated approach to research across the historic environment sector’.

In Scotland, the Scottish Archaeological Research Framework (ScARF) was launched in 2012. Funded primarily by what is now Historic Environment Scotland and managed by the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland, this National Research Framework was one of the first to be available online as an updateable web-resource. It is now a key part of Scotland’s Archaeology Strategy.

Research Frameworks for many areas and specialisms have now been developed across the UK, with more in production. Some of the earlier Frameworks are already being reviewed and updated. In Scotland, as well as new thematic frameworks, the national framework is being updated through a series of regional frameworks.

The development of this Research Frameworks Network also addresses a number of the recommendations of the Pye Tait Review of Research Frameworks report (2014), including the need to ‘Pursue the development of a dynamic and interactive web-based system for hosting a new generation of Research Frameworks’.

As new Research Frameworks are developed, and older documents are reviewed, the plan is for them to be published here on the Network as a central location. We are also working on making older Research Frameworks (originally published as monographs) available through the Network.

A selection of Research Framework covers

What are Research Frameworks?

Research Frameworks help us to identify what is important or significant archaeologically. They are normally organised by either;

  • Geographical areas such as Regional, County, or World Heritage Site (e.g. the South West Regional Research Framework)
  • Periods (eg the Mesolithic)
  • Themes (eg Roman pottery)

They provide research questions and objectives to help co-ordinate and focus our research effort.

They are created by bringing together people across the sector to create a shared framework, key stakeholders include:

  • Local authorities
  • Contractors
  • Academics
  • Voluntary groups

Each framework will be approached in a different way, but are usually guided by a Steering Group and begin with meetings of local stakeholders from across the historic environment spectrum. These events may take the form of a mixture of workshops and meetings and people come together to discuss and identify research priorities. Sections of the Frameworks are often written by specialists, but undergo peer review and consultation before the final resource assessment and research questions are agreed.

A Regional Research Framework Steering group meeting

Research Frameworks provide us with:

1. An up to date overview of current understanding – ie “what we currently know”.

They are usually created by synthesising information from lots of different sources, eg Historic Environment Records (HERs), reports from planning-led investigations, academic and society journals. This resource assessment provides an overview of a specific period, place or theme – eg The Bronze Age in the West Midlands.

2. A Research Agenda – identifying gaps in our knowledge and providing questions to fill these gaps.

An agreed set of research areas and questions that can be used to help co-ordinate research is developed. The questions help focus what the sector and communities want to know more about. Research agendas can help to coordinate academic and community research as well as provide a research focus for development-led projects.

3. Strategies to carry out this research.

These strategies provide the framework within which the research can be carried out by promoting and recommending potential ways forward and partnerships, which will help to answer the questions in the research agenda.

Frameworks content

Regional and Thematic Frameworks will differ in content. They can cover archaeology, the built environment, landscapes, environmental information, and maritime heritage. However, generally they all follow a similar structure and contain the following:

  • Definition of the region or theme – defining the area covered by the framework
  • Summary or resource assessment of the time periods or themes
  • Research Agenda and Questions – list of key research questions for each period or a synthesis of research themes spanning multiple periods
  • Research Strategy – possible strategies for advancing understanding of the Agenda topics
  • Overarching questions – region or specialism wide questions
  • Environmental information (if relevant) – details of the palaeoenvironmental remains
  • Case Studies to highlight particular research or sites
  • Resources/bibliography – these vary in detail and scope across the network, but often contain lists of publications used in the production of the framework, online resources and other relevant information.

A table of existing research Frameworks can be found here. We are working to make more research frameworks available on this network.

Using Research Frameworks

Research Frameworks play an important role in providing an overview of current understanding, coordinating research and informing decision making – particularly planning related. They have many different uses:

1. Local authority staff:

  • As a reference to provide context for assessing the significance of heritage assets and proposed sites.
  • To provide a research focus for planning-led investigations.

2. Contractors:

  • As a reference resource to help write desk-based assessments and environmental impact assessments.
  • Referred to when writing Written Schemes of Investigation (WSIs) in response to project briefs.

3. Academics:

  • To scope out research projects and provide direction for postgraduate research.
  • To support applications for funding
  • To assess the ‘impact’ of their research, eg in relation to Research Excellence Framework (REF) impact assessments.

4. Local Societies:

  • To improve their knowledge and scope out research projects.
  • To support applications for funding community led projects
  • To establish research priorities linking into the regional and national picture.

Contributing to the Research Frameworks

Frameworks rely on continual research to keep up to date. Everyone is encouraged to add to the value of the Frameworks by contributing to these online documents via the commenting facility as new work is carried out relevant to the research questions.

To find out how to get involved please visit the How to use the Research Framework Site page to find out how to register and contribute to the historical and archaeological knowledge on these sites.